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Bias Breaking: The Problem with Self-Reported Behavior

All marketers dream of being a fly on the wall during their customer’s path to purchase journey.


 The story goes that the closer you can get to your customer - to understanding their hopes, dreams, preferences, motivators, and so on - the closer you will get to building informed marketing strategies that are destined for greatness.

To gain deeper insights in market research, qualitative studies are often employed. These studies involve methods such as focus groups and in-depth interviews, which allow for open-ended questions and valuable feedback. However, it's important to note that the information gathered from qualitative research is, frankly, subjective and based on feelings, perceptions, and impressions rather than objective, evidence-based data.

The Hazards of Qualitative Research

While these methods can offer significant context for marketers seeking to better understand the consumer mindset, it's important to acknowledge that it may also introduce bias and lead to dangerous blindspots in the insights if not properly considered.

“Qualitative research involves finding out what people think and how they feel – or, at any rate, what they say they think and how they say they feel” (Bellenger, Kenneth; Qualitative Research in Marketing).

While focus groups and surveys can provide valuable insights, they should not be the sole source of information when it comes to understanding consumer behavior. Behavioral scientists have found that people often make decisions unconsciously and based on emotions, which they are, practically speaking, not able to articulate or recall with accuracy. So, we might think we know why we made certain buying decisions, but truthfully, there are missing pieces of human recollection.

Why Survey Results Don't Always Stand Up to the Truth

One leading Behavioral scientist, Susan Weinschenk (2019) explains it like this: “Research shows that most of our decisions – big or small – are made unconsciously and involve emotion.” Since the majority of decisions are made unconsciously, it stands to reason that, despite their best efforts, respondents of qualitative research can’t provide us with the big picture – because they themselves cannot see it.

This blank space triggers an autonomy bias response - considered one of the most powerful motivators of human behavior. Autonomy bias is the brain’s innate desire to control oneself and one's environment by acting with a certain level of independence. Behavioral scientists have found that once this level of agency, or independent decision making, is achieved, people are happier, less stressed, and more satisfied.

So, when asked to explain why we do certain things, the brain eliminates the blank space, manufacturing a reason that logically explains the actions. Have you ever found your misplaced keys and told yourself that you put them there for a specific reason? This is an example of the brain filling in the gaps to fit into your narrative and give the continued assurance of agency.

This might sound like awful news for marketers who rely heavily on qualitative research, but believe me, it is not. It is through knowing the science of behavior, and how and why we do what we do, that you can seek out information to contextualize your decisions and illuminate your blindspots.

So, now what? Well, if you are concerned with getting closer to understanding the true behavior of your shopper, you should look to observational research to close the gap.

Observational Research Can Help You Get the Facts Right

Observational research allows you to observe, without interfering, thereby giving you the most authentic behavioral responses and the most bulletproof analysis of in-store performance. Observational research can be conducted in one of three ways: The first, online tracking, can be a powerful tool for building an understanding of online user behavior – how they shop, how they browse, what categories and interests they engage with, and so on. This technique is powerful, but when it comes to observing physical in-store behavior, irrelevant.

The second way observational research is conducted is through human observation. While productive, in theory, the limitations of human beings as the primary gatherer of data limits it from producing any kind of meaningful results at scale.

Leverage AI to Build Expansive Behavioral Understanding

The third technique involves employing the power of AI technology, and is the technique that fuels VideoMining’s capabilities. With this, powerful and proprietary AI behavior sensors are placed throughout the store, capturing millions of micro-moments of behavioral data, at scale, across tens of thousands of trips.

If you are looking for authentic and indisputable shopper behavioral data, observational research, powered by AI technology, is the only choice. At VideoMining, we’ve spent over a decade perfecting our expertise in shopper behavior science, capturing and decoding behavior through powerful AI technologies. What could you learn through AI-powered shopper behavioral data, collected through observational research? We can’t wait to show you: